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Nevada board approves student testing contract

Nevada will award a nearly $51.5 million contract for student testing services after dumping its previous contractor earlier this year following a series of computer glitches that plagued the system.

The state Board of Examiners on Tuesday unanimously approved a four-year contract with industry heavyweight CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop, administer, score and report the litany of standardized tests that thousands of public school students take every year in Nevada.

A seven-member evaluation panel scored CTB/McGraw-Hill’s bid, with a total price tag of $51.48 million, above 10 other competitors, including Measured Progress Inc. That Dover, New Hampshire-based firm failed to fix systemic glitches that prevented the state from transitioning to computerized testing in the spring.

Only 30 percent of the approximately 214,000 third- through eighth-grade students expected to take the new tests successfully completed the assessments, and that failure prompted Gov. Brian Sandoval to question the ability of CTB/McGraw-Hill to perform any better.

“First time, shame on them. Second time, shame on us,” Sandoval during the board’s meeting.

Officials with the Nevada Department of Education and CTB/McGraw-Hill’s proposed subcontractor, Data Recognition Corp., or DRC, addressed his concerns and highlighted similar work DRC completed in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Doug Russell, senior vice president of education programs at DRC, also noted that his firm transitioned 10 states with no online testing to a computerized system.

“We haven’t had any problems in any other client states,” added John Bandy, chief information officer for DRC.

Additionally, Steve Canavero, state deputy superintendent for student success, explained that the agreement with CTB/McGraw-Hill includes several clawback provisions that would recover the full portion of the contract’s value if it fails to provide the full scope of services.

Canavero said a new provision of the contract covers liability for the protection of student data privacy, though the subcontractors stress they currently handle sensitive information with other clients such as the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Defense.

Also Tuesday, the Board of Examiners unanimously approved a $247,500 loan for the state treasurer’s office to build and maintain an enrollment program for Nevada’s new education savings accounts.

Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt said the treasurer’s office already has received more than 1,000 applications for that program, which offers about $5,000 for students to attend private school or for homeschooling, since early enrollment started late July. By comparison, the education savings program in Arizona has enrolled about 1,300 students total in its fifth-year of implementation, according to Hewitt.

“Our research shows there are about 6,000 open private school seats in Nevada today,” he said.

“There are approximately 8,000 homeschool families in Nevada today,” Hewitt added. “We believe about 60 percent of those (families) will be interested in utilizing the (education savings) accounts.”

The Nevada Legislature’s interim finance committee meets next week to consider final approval of the loan, which Hewitt said will be repaid through a 3 percent administration fee for all education savings accounts.

Contact Neal Morton at nmorton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @nealtmorton.

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